Indiana agency denies emergency request over beach erosion

OGDEN DUNES, Ind. (AP) —

An Indiana state agency declined to declare an emergency at Lake Michigan beaches eroded by high water levels and a series of storms, saying there isn’t enough damage to public resources to warrant the use of federal disaster funds.

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security concluded this week that the damage to the shoreline in Porter and LaPorte counties isn't severe enough for the state to request financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"To date, we are unaware of any loss of infrastructure (i.e. roads, bridges, public utilities, etc.) which would qualify for public assistance funding from federal or state disaster relief programs," IDHS Executive Director Stephen Cox wrote in a Wednesday letter to lawmakers who asked for the state's assistance.

Cox responded to calls from Democratic state Sen. Karen Tallian and Rep. Pat Boy, who had asked Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to declare a disaster in those counties, saying the state's response has been woefully inadequate.

IDHS, and other state and federal agencies, have been monitoring the beach erosion, Cox said. He pointed to similar shoreline erosion problems in Michigan that the state hasn’t deemed a disaster or sought FEMA funds for, The Times of Northwest Indiana reported.

But Tallian pushed back, arguing that although the lake hasn’t damaged "public" infrastructure, such as the Portage lakefront pavilion, there's an urgent need for state resources to prevent that from happening.

The senator, who is from Ogden Dunes, noted that support beams for porches at lake-adjacent homes in Long Beach have collapsed. Lake water has also made its way past barriers and exposed septic fields in the town, possibly resulting in sewage seeping into the lake.

She also pointed to the "big pile of money" the town of Beverly Shores spent on preventing Lake Front Drive from getting washed out.

"Surely we don't have to wait until the road is in the lake before we can ask for assistance," Tallian said.

There are ongoing local efforts to address erosion.

Officials in Porter County, Portage, Ogden Dunes and Beverly Shores have declared local beach erosion emergencies.

On Thursday, the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission created a committee to demand a more helpful response from state and federal authorities.

The commission will underscore the threats of the rising lake levels in addition to the broader regional and national implications.

This week in Illinois, high lake levels and a string of storms have forced Chicago officials to close two beaches in Rogers Park, which is on the city's North Side.